The bulk of federal health care reform won’t take effect for another few years, but here in Colorado, steps are already underway to reduce the number of people without health insurance. A new state law that imposes fees on hospitals went into effect this week. Over the next few years, it’s expected to allow Colorado to expand access to health insurance to about 150,000 of the state’s 800,000 uninsured residents. The funds generated from the hospital fees will allow Colorado to expand access to Medicaid for adults, increase the income limit to qualify for Medicaid, and expand access to Child Health Plan Plus (CHP+) for children and pregnant women.
Hospitals like Denver Health, where a large number of uninsured, indigent, and Medicaid patients are treated, will see millions of dollars in revenue from the fee system. Hospitals that don’t currently treat many of those patients will end up losing money under the new law, although some of them may start to see more Medicaid patients as a result.
It’s no secret that hospitals in wealthier areas fare better than those in poorer areas. In Colorado, a hospital in Highlands Ranch will see far fewer Medicaid patients than Denver Health. There’s no way around that, since people are most likely to visit a nearby hospital, and demographically, there are fewer uninsured and Medicaid patients in wealthier areas. But everyone needs access to medical care, regardless of where they live or how well funded their local hospital is. The nice thing about the new hospital fee system is that it will help to level the playing field (at least a little bit) for hospitals in Colorado. It will help the hospitals in poorer areas bear the brunt of treating so many uninsured and Medicaid patients, and will spread the cost around to some of the hospitals that treat mostly patients with private health insurance.
Obviously we have a long way to go, as the hospital fee system would still leave 650,000 people in Colorado without health insurance. But it’s a good start.